(4 / 5)
Blending voices is a skill. An art. Whether that be a duo, close harmonies, backing vocals or a full choir. It doesn’t always work. In this case, it very much does. The name’s Bond…not James; Grace and Aaron Bond, aka When Rivers Meet, the British duo who have delivered a highly accomplished debut album in “Liberty”.
The chemistry between their voices is palpable, and producer Chris West has got it dead right with the sparseness of much of the record, to allow the superb self-penned songs to breath and to place emphasis on the voices.
Grace has a gorgeous voice, she really does, and on some cuts, especially the second track in, “You Blinded Me”, she reminded me of Eva Cassidy’s sublime timbre. Aaron is no slouch as a singer either, as he proves both in the duo stuff and as lead singer on “Regrets & Lies”.
But the chemistry between them is the key to making this into an album that deserves major praise and widespread attention. Clearly they know each other well musically, and perhaps being husband and wife helps with the bond (see what I did there?)
They dropped an EP in 2014, joined by a percussionist. In 2016 after a chance meeting with Chris West, a platinum award winning producer who had been along to one of their live shows and was very impressed by their dynamics, When Rivers Meet travelled to his studio on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia to record this collection.
The studio was set in an idyllic location overlooking a waters meet and a mountain. After two weeks in the studio, they returned with virtually a complete album. Eight of the eleven tracks are self-penned, two are highly requested covers they play live and one is a song called Fingertips by songwriter Roy Villanis.
Two of the covers are BIG songs from BIG artists. Always a risk to tackle songs that are synonymous with superstar artists, and you do not get much bigger than Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
The set opens with the June Carter Cash-penned “Ring Of Fire”. Their version; intense and at the same time sweet, perfectly executed cover of an iconic song which has been sat waiting for these two to claim it as their own. A brave and bold move, which they pull off in fine style. Perhaps lose to Alison Krauss territory and that good too.
The jury is out for me on their version of “Suspicious Minds, of course made famous by the boy from Tupelo who became The King, but a song written by Mark James and also covered by country superstar Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter. The arrangement here doesn’t sit easy on the ear for me. The third cover here is a very nice song written by Roy Villanis, “Fingertips”. The other eight cuts written by the couple.
“You Blinded Me”, is nicely stripped back to expose Grace’s reverb-soaked voice and brush strokes of various guitars, gracefully played by multi-skilling producer Chris West. Infectious vocal “ahh ohhs” in the hook; and the production approach of just voice and guitars allows the beauty of the song to breath. Her old man probably popped out for a glass of Prossecco and a bowl of pasta in the sunshine! He’s back for the mid-tempo “Papered Trust”, where there’s nice light and shade between the two very different voices.
“Regrets & Lies” is a standout, with superb twangy restrained guitar from Chris West, conjuring up an infectious riff that glues this atmospheric, semi-rockabilly/Chris Isaac style atmospheric cut together. Aaron takes lead vocal on this moody track, which would not be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Grace’s turn for the wander in the Italian sunshine while her old man puts his vocal down!
Grace gives us a sassy vocal on “Greed”,and she slings in some fine mandolin on the country folk ditty “Postpone”, before “Suspicious Minds”, which I commented on earlier. Trombone, trumpet and clarinet on the quirky “Can’t Pay My Way”, a title which sums up the life of a freelance music journalist, methinks! Twangy guitar sets the tone and the pair deliver some very strong vocals. There’s another two of their own songs before the closer, “Fingertips”. All decent tracks for sure.
The pair are sometimes compared to the now defunct US roots duo Civil Wars, but I don’t hear that. There is of course, the male and female duo of The Shires from the UK doing good things out there right now, and I’d put Grace and Aaron a tad closer to them than the US pair. But I’d say When Rivers Meet have their own sound and their own thing going on, so any comparison are pretty meaningless.
They are joined by players providing viola, drums, trombone, trumpet and clarinet, and as mentioned; Chris West on guitars. Aaron plays acoustic guitar and Grace gives us mandolin and violin. No bass guitar on this record, but there is kazoo and spoons (Actually, I made the last two up!)
I will say this; and I am not any way demeaning what Aaron brings to the party, but if Grace ever fancies a crack at a solo career, I’d pop into the local betting shop fast and lay some heavy money down on it being successful, with the right wind behind her. A very distinctive voice and “on trend” for today. T. Bone Burnett would be my choice as the man to produce and make it happen for her.
But back to the pair as they work today and their smashing debut album. You surely know you have made a damn fine record when the likes of Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey gushes: “…the performances are exemplary, the sound is magnificent, the songs are gorgeous, and I am insanely jealous – this is really wonderful. I love the drama. I love everything.” He is not wrong. Premium Bond indeed…
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’